We are constantly experimenting and testing our ideas before we invest a lot of time and money into something new. If we can’t find resources that are specific to our north Idaho micro-climate, we test other regional theories to see how or if they will work here. We have definitely found that what works in other parts of the country often doesn’t work here. The micro-climate at our farm has many variables that we always consider when determining the success or failure of a new crop. Our elevation, slope, aspect, and ever changing climate have taught us to adapt and use a multitude of season extension techniques. On-farm research has been a useful tool for problem solving and answering specific questions about our production system.
Thom and Diane both have backgrounds collecting field data for the USFS, and were taught early on the importance of recording accurate field information. Our fields are mapped with rows numbered and easy to identify location of plots, specific crops, and field applications. Because we are a certified organic farm, we are required to maintain clear records of everything that we do in the fields and have been told our methodology is exceptional. We maintain a daily journal of everything accomplished in the fields and gardens to correlate with our field maps, as well as planting and harvest records and have field records dating back to the first year we certified organic (1992). We have both used data recorders and have proven competent and consistent collecting and maintaining field data using technical tools, taking measurements and documenting our daily observations.
We are always experimenting with different methods to compare crops, seed varieties, companion planting and cover cropping techniques in the fields and have found this to be a powerful decision-making tool. We are open to trialing new practical organic methodology, different management styles, and new methods that might benefit future organic farmers in the region.
Universities around the country are responding with new undergraduate, graduate, and research programs in organic farming and sustainable agriculture and we want to be a part of this movement. We have successfully collaborated on an assortment of field days and projects with students and University Extension from Washington State University, University of Idaho, Montana State University, the Organic Seed Alliance and the non-profit sustainable agriculture organization Rural Roots. Students and faculty have joined us for educational field days on the farm from a variety of campus departments, including Horticulture, Environmental Studies, Plant, Soil and Entomological Sciences, and the College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences Department of Entomology. We have cooperated with undergraduate and graduate research programs as well as postdoctoral scientists.
When we first decided to explore different options of on-farm research, we were happy to find that there were a number of publications available to help us succeed. Having these resources available to us helped us meet our commitment with universities and the private sector as well. The Sustainable Agriculture Research & Education (SARE) program has some amazing information that has come from other farmers doing on-farm research. We have been involved with an assortment of SARE projects over the years we’ve been farming are find that there is always something new to learn, and are happy to share what we learn with others. Their programs fit well with undergrad and graduate grant opportunities for research.
Washington State University 2009-2011
College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences Department of Entomology
Cooperators: Joyce Elizabeth Parker and Professor Dr. William E. Snyder. Funded by USDA Western Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education grant
Project Title: Combining Trap Cropping with Companion Planting to Maximize Control of the Crucifer Flea Beetle in Organic Mixed Vegetable Farms
Joyce Elizabeth Parker / Field Research at Greentree Naturals 2009-2011
I had several research plots on university experiment farms, but it was the research plot at Greentree Naturals that I valued the most. Having an experiment applied to a working farm is essential in agricultural research success. It was eye opening to see our trap crop being integrated into their organic pest management plan. Working with Greentree Naturals, I received experience interacting with local growers, interested community members and fine tuning my extension skills. I would not have received this experience anywhere else. With the help of Diane and Thom, I now better understand interactions between trap cropping, farm biodiversity and pest insects that will allow growers to utilize more-sustainable management options to control flea beetles in Brassica crops. I received indispensable knowledge and experience, but most importantly I made lifelong mentors and friends. It was such a terrific experience!
For the past three years I have been researching trap cropping as a technique to control the crucifer flea beetle and I have had the wonderful experience of working together on this research project with Greentree Naturals. To give you a little background, the crucifer flea beetle is a common pest throughout North American which attacks plants in the family Brassicaceae (e.g., broccoli, kale, cabbage, collards, etc.). Chewing damage by flea beetle adults can lead to crop stress, reduced growth, stunting, and eventually death. This is important, because Brassica crops are a major component of mixed vegetable farms and organic growers are often limited in control techniques. Trap crops are stands of plants that attract pest insects away from the cash crop. We used a mustard trap crop at Greentree Naturals from 2009-2011 to protect broccoli from flea beetle damage.
* Joyce completed her PhD in Entomology in 2011.
Organic Seed Alliance 2007
Cooperators: Micaela Colley funded by USDA Risk Management Association Commodity Partnership Grant
Project Title: On-Farm Variety Trials for Organic Systems
Micaela Colley was the farmer outreach coordinator for the Organic Seed Alliance when she contacted us in 2006 about participating in their project. We learned a great deal about seed trials and gained confidence in our seed saving ability after completing the training sessions and research project that took place at Greentree Naturals the summer of 2007. The following is an outline sent to us from Micaela in preparation for the seed trials:
Skills for on-farm trialing are more than a means to regulatory compliance. They are primarily a tool that maximizes a producer's agronomic and market successes while minimizing their risks of loss. Identifying and planting the best varieties available for individual farming systems is a highly beneficial risk management strategy for a wide range of producers. Through the on-farm variety trialing process producers have the opportunity to identify varieties that reduce the negative impacts of pests and diseases, result in optimum yields, are best adapted to their specific local environmental conditions, have good handling and storage qualities, and possess desirable marketing traits such as good flavor and attractive appearance. The value of such potential has far reaching economic ramifications. However, fitting trials into a working farm can be difficult to manage effectively without careful planning. Through the in-field trainings and the Guidelines to On-Farm Variety Trials growers will benefit from improved management skills that make trialing easier and more efficient while improving the quality of their trial data. Growers learned time-efficient data collection/trial evaluation techniques that increase the likelihood of successful trial results and save the grower costly expenses of time. Hosting the field day on farms will demonstrate the feasibility of managing variety trials on a working farm.
Greentree Naturals hosted a field day training (educational workshop) which provided a venue for Micaela Colley to share variety trialing approaches and methods learned from six different farm-sites. She presented the guidelines for in-field seed trial evaluations as well as an overview of the information contained within the study.
Harvesting spinach from seed trials Field Day with Organic Seed Alliance